Rugby Union: Leader of the opposition with a new constituency
Paul Trow finds that Tony Hallett's return to rugby activity is likely to be lively
Sunday 28 December 1997
Cliff Brittle might have thought - and hoped - he had seen the back of Tony Hallett after in effect ousting him from the corridors of power in the English game last autumn, but the former secretary of the Rugby Football Union has made a dramatic return to the front line.
After four months of "resting" and chatting to chums on the phone, Hallett takes up his new position as chief executive of Richmond, the club for whom he played during the Seventies, in a fortnight's time.
And despite his own protestations to the contrary, it seems better than an even bet that the 52-year-old former naval officer will soon become involved again in the on-going dialogue between the senior clubs and the RFU as the game grapples with the deepening crises over cash and fixtures.
Arguably, these problems originated with decisions taken during Hallett's two-year reign at Twickenham, but now the gamekeeper has turned poacher and he has Vision 2000, Brittle's recently published personal blueprint for the future of English rugby, firmly in his sights.
Hallett is scathing about several of Brittle's suggestions - including the introduction of a regional tournament as a bridge between club and international rugby, professionalism for just the top two divisions of clubs, and the creation of an amateur England team.
"The idea of introducing provincial rugby along the lines of the southern hemisphere doesn't work here," Hallett, who first joined the RFU Council in 1979, said. "It is simply divisional rugby in disguise and there is no natural geographical set-up for it here. It has a history of failing to attract television, sponsorship or gates. The backbone of our game is the clubs and they should act as our provinces. To ask the clubs who pay the players to release them for yet another round of matches is retrograde.
"The clubs will view any attempt to reintroduce divisional rugby as a direct threat. If we want to create something similar to the Super 12, the answer could be a European league. We should always have the European Cup, as it has brought new revenue and sponsorship into the game, but the European Conference has been a lossmaker, which is not sponsored or broadcast. A Conference match doesn't excite like a fixture with, say, Leicester.
"As for the proposed professional-amateur divide, I thought we'd agreed the game would be seamless so that everybody - clubs, players, coaches and referees - would have the choice whether to be professional or amateur. A lot of clubs in Jewson Leagues One and Two do have professional ambitions, and we shouldn't arbitrarily deny them. If they are suffocated then we'll be back to the old shamateur days. You want to help the successful clubs to work their way up the ladder.
"Also, I don't understand Cliff's idea of staging amateur internationals. It would mean another tier of bureaucracy and who would want it? There can be only one England team. Amateur rugby league never got off the ground, and I don't believe this would either. Are we going to start asking the players again whether they are amateur or professional?"
As he contemplates his new role Hallett emphasises quite different issues. "The problems confronting club rugby are twofold - finance and the need for a structured season. Club rugby has just had a fallow period with no competitive matches to offer its supporters over a five- week period. But it should be possible to structure the season so that both club and international rugby can flourish.
"We need to start with a clean sheet, ask what the ideal requirements are for clubs and countries, and put a solid, sensible domestic fixture list in place. There has to be a defined period for international rugby - matches and training. The other Five Nations countries should agree to hold their training sessions at the same time as England so the disruption to clubs is kept to a minimum.
"I believe the demand is there for club rugby, but we have to go out and find it. A few years ago Richmond were happy to see more than 500 spectators at a league game. Now we are disappointed if our attendance is less than 6,000, and we are aiming to get it up to around 10,000.
"The objective for every club is for the gate money to match the wage bill. There are great financial stresses on clubs, but the absolutely essential thing is not to spend more than your budgeted income. And you have to know your bank manager well."
With the benefit of hindsight, one apparent mistake during Hallett's regime was not to put England's leading 150 players under contract to the RFU as the southern hemisphere countries did when the game went open. "Maybe we should have done that, but it's too late now for the RFU to try to impose that on the clubs. The clubs have invested heavily, but they would never hinder a player's international ambitions. To have your players playing international rugby enhances their profile. What the game needs is strong leadership."
Talking of leadership, Hallett is baffled there is no apparent successor to him on the RFU horizon. "An organisation that size should have someone at the helm, be it a chief executive or secretary, otherwise who is co- ordinating all the staff and their work?" Meanwhile, Hallett's priority is to help establish Richmond among the top six clubs in England, but it is inconceivable that his negotiating skills and experience will not be called upon on a wider stage. "I don't wish to be involved with English Rugby Partnership, as I'd like to concentrate on Richmond for the time being," Hallett said, a shade unconvincingly. "But obviously I'll be there in the background."
Latest in Sport
MotoGP Qatar Grand Prix 2015: Five things we can expect this season plus what to look out for as Marc Marquez begins title defence
WrestleMania 31: What time does it start? Full match card and preview ahead of WWE event
Sting vs Triple H: NWO, DX and Shawn Michaels return at Wrestlemania 31 at The Game triumphs in flashback to Monday Night Wars
Cricket World Cup 2015 - Nick Knight column: It was all over the moment the cup’s best bowler bowled the best batsman
Thierry Henry shows he's still got it with incredible pass against Jamie Carragher's side during Steven Gerrard tribute match
- 1 East 17 bandmember Brian Harvey in 'very desperate situation’
- 3 Vladimir Putin says Russia will fight for the right of Palestinians to their own state
- 4 Woman filmed launching racist tirade against men on the Tube for speaking in 'own lingo'
- 5 The West has it totally wrong on Lee Kuan Yew
Ukip supporters are 55 or older, white and socially conservative, finds British Social Attitudes Report
JK Rowling responds to fan tweeting she 'can't see' Dumbledore being gay
Jeremy Clarkson sacked live: Alan Yentob 'wouldn't rule out' ex Top Gear host's BBC return
David Cameron calls Labour 'hopeless, sneering socialists' while announcing 7-day NHS plans
The West has it totally wrong on Lee Kuan Yew
Woman filmed launching racist tirade against men on the Tube for speaking in 'own lingo'
£14500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity has arisen for a Sales Ca...
£14560 - £15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company offers unique pers...
£6 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join a gro...
Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Service Delivery Manager is required to join...